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Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me (1943)

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Origin and Chart Information
“considered by many as one of the high points, perhaps even a masterpiece, of Duke Ellington’s body of work.”

- JW

Rank 93
Music Duke Ellington
Lyrics Bob Russell

In 1943 Duke Ellington and His Orchestra introduced “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” with featured vocalist Al Hibbler. The record became a best-selling rhythm and blues hit and appeared on the R&B charts in early 1944, climbing all the way to number one where it would stay for eight weeks.

 

More on Al Hibbler at JazzBiographies.com
 

Within months of its original release, the song would be covered by Woody Herman and His Orchestra, The Delta Rhythm Boys, Billie Holiday, and Stan Kenton and His Orchestra. It successfully crossed over as a pop song, appearing on the pop charts by:

  • Woody Herman and His Orchestra (1944, Woody Herman, vocal, #7)
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1944, Al Hibbler, vocal, #10)
  • Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (1944, Red Dorris, vocal, #10)
 

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954
 

“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” is considered by many as one of the high points, perhaps even a masterpiece, of Duke Ellington’s body of work. The song was created when Bob Russell fitted lyrics to the predominant theme of the 1940 Duke Ellington composition “Concerto for Cootie.” (It is important to note that “Concerto for Cootie” is a different composition from Ellington’s 1935 “Cootie’s Concerto,” which was later known as “Echoes of Harlem”).

 

More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Bob Russell at JazzBiographies.com
 

In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, Philip Furia praises Russell’s ability to coax genuine sentiment out of an Ellington melody and calls “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” “probably the slangiest pledge of romantic fidelity ever written.”

As the song’s original title claims, “Concerto for Cootie” is indeed a concerto, possessing both similarities and differences with other concertos. A concerto often highlights a soloist or group of soloists and is usually in symphonic form with three movements. Ellington’s concerto differs in that it has only one movement, but like other concertos it specifically showcases a soloist, in this case trumpeter Cootie Williams. Williams was at the pinnacle of his career and had developed his technique and style to the point that he was able to express an unprecedented range of emotional moods.

Strangely enough, the transition from the instrumental “Concerto for Cootie” to the vocalized “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” was precipitated by the president of the American Federation of Musicians. In August, 1942, he called for a recording ban, demanding that studios pay royalties instead of flat fees for nearly all recordings by AFM member musicians and orchestras. While the ban only lasted a little over a year, it contributed greatly to the demise of the Big Band Era. While the large orchestras suffered, vocalists (who were less likely to be AFM members) flourished. Since less music was being written, the studios were forced to become more creative with their existing resources. Old recordings were re-released, and studios mined their catalogs for instrumentals they could transform into vocal hits, using salaried studio musicians rather than big name bands. This led Bob Russell to write the lyrics for Ellington’s 1940 “Never No Lament” and “Concerto for Cootie,” resulting in “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” respectively.

More information on this tune...

John Edward Hasse
Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington
Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press ed edition
Paperback: 479 pages


(Musician/educator/producer Hasse tells the history of the song.)

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co
Spiral-bound


(Pianist/educator Halberstadt analyzes the musical content.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me”

Original Key G major, changing to Eb major during the first half of the bridge
Form A – A – B – A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Section “A” is a number of upper and lower embellishing tones around the third degrees of the tonic key, finally descending to the lower fourth by skips, then stepping up to the tonic after an embellishing upward leap. Section “B” consists of a pentatonic motif that mutates slightly toward the end before the modulation back into the last “A.”

Comments     (assumed background)

With a repetitive melody and a catchy chord progression, this tune is a favorite improvisational vehicle. The initial I –v (ii7/IV) – I7(V7/IV) – IV – iv sequence is reminiscent of “Cherokee” until measure 5. Ellington writes I – vii˚7/ii – ii7 (G – D˚7 – Am) here, but the D˚7 is really E7(b9) without the root – the typical dominant chord resolving to A. The lower neighbor chords in measure 7, in which the composer writes G – F – F#, are strictly decorative. Section “B” is harmonically static, staying on Eb major for a full four measures before a sudden shift back to the tonic of G major. Many editions of this song show the modulation sequence as a simple VI7 – II7 – V7 back to G major with two changes per measure. However, this does not exactly fit the melody. More likely, Ellington had some quick changes at this point. The last three measures of “B” would then have been: G – G7/F – E – A7 (or Eb˚7)|| D – D˚7 – Em11 – A7|| Am/D. The melody at this point would seem to bear this out.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Soundtrack information
“Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me” was included in these films:
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me" may be found in:

John Edward Hasse
Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington
Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press ed edition
Paperback: 479 pages


(3 paragraphs including the following types of information: history.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Mercer Ellington
Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir
Da Capo Pr; 1st Da Capo paperback ed edition
Paperback: 236 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co
Spiral-bound


(4 pages including the following types of information: music analysis.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Despite the flurry of recording activity following its initial release with lyrics in 1944, this tune languished until pianist Oscar Peterson brought it back into favor in 1952. Again, the tune went into hiding for a few years when Peterson’s mentor, Art Tatum, dusted it off for Verve (the label that Peterson became “house pianist” with). Billie Holiday also revisited the number, this time for Verve Records, in 1955.

Cootie Williams, for whom the tune was originally written in 1940, did his remake of it in 1958 along with cornetist Rex Stewart, his former section mate with the Duke (and on the original 1940 “Concerto for Cootie” recording).

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book
Polygram Records
Original recordings 1952 and 1959
iTunes
Art Tatum
Solo Masterpieces, Vol 6
Pablo 2405437
Original recording 1953
iTunes
Billie Holiday
Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years
Polygram Records
Original Recording 19
iTunes
Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart
The Big Challenge
Fresh Sounds Records 44

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Anyone learning this tune must start with Ellington’s “Concerto for Cootie.” It may seem counter-intuitive that the definitive recording of “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” (Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band) is in fact a tune with a different title altogether, but any real study of “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” begins with “Concerto for Cootie;” the latter provides the former’s origin and is a true Ellington classic. Going forth from that point, there are several notable recordings of “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” itself. Most significant among those are two Ellington recordings, one from the 1940s with Al Hibbler on vocals and one from his 1961 “Summit Meeting” with Louis Armstrong.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band
RCA

This compilation includes the brilliant original recording of “Concerto for Cootie,” the instrumental piece that, upon the adding of lyrics, provided the basis for “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.” The arrangement is lush and intricate, and Cootie Williams shines on trumpet both with and without a mute.
iTunes
Charles Mingus
Pre-Bird
1999 Polygram 538636
Original recording 1960
Charles Mingus dips into the Ellington songbook, but comes up with an arrangement that is bright in tempo and full of surprises. Numerous great saxophonists passed through his band, and sometimes several of them overlapped. This performance documents one such point in time, as the arrangement revolves around an incendiary tenor saxophone battle featuring Booker Ervin, Joe Farrell and Yusef Lateef.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington - Greatest Hits [Columbia/Legacy]
Columbia
Original recording 1947
The definitive rendition of the song, featuring vocalist Al Hibbler, is on this compilation.
iTunes
Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington
The Great Summit: The Master Takes
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1961
Two heavyweights of jazz join forces for the first and only time in their careers. The song takes on a very bluesy feel as Armstrong interprets the Ellington classic with the composer himself.
iTunes
Nina Simone
Sings Duke Ellington: At Carnegie Hall
2000, Collectables
Original recording, 1962
The one and only, the inimitable, Nina Simone, shows all of her complex colors in this performance, singing and swinging “Do Nothin’....
Wynton Kelly
Kelly Blue
1991 Original Jazz Classics 033
Original recording 1959
This swinging performance features pianist Kelly with his longtime trio with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Kelly and Chambers engage in a tuned-in dialogue, and each of them takes a great solo.
iTunes
Steve Turre
In the Spur of the Moment
2000, Telarc

Trombonist Turre trades licks with pianist Stephen Scott in a rousing Ellington medley that includes “Five O’clock Drag.” Turre and his instrument, with its slides and growls, are well-suited to the song.
iTunes
Ellis Marsalis
Duke in Blue
1999 Columbia 63631

Pianist Marsalis gives a swinging, solo performance of the tune that is equal parts reverent and visionary.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Duke Ellington and Bob Russell

Year Rank Title
1943 93 Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me
1942 104 Don't Get Around Much Anymore
1944 500 I Didn't Know About You
1940 546 Warm Valley

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